Many people are born to make music, some don't need a teacher to teach them how to make a hit song. But as it is with life, everything takes time to develop, a gift must be policed properly in order to produce excellent results.
There are certain skills you must learn as a music producer, whether you are a beginner or not that will help you make great music.
As a music producer it is always good when you think of the end product of your song right from the beginning stage. Doing this will cause you to take decisive steps in the production process that will guarantee a happy ending. You will quickly learn some tips and techniques about frequency, sound layering and effects that will help you improve your music production game.
Quickly let me talk briefly about thinking like a mix engineers.
When it comes to mixing, some producers really get frustrated because of how hard they believe mixing is.
Though learning to mix can't happen overnight, but you can always be a better engineer tomorrow than you currently are today, if you decide to put in a little time to learn and practice.
Thinking like an engineer will help you make conscious and sound decisions during the music production or recording phase. Audio Engineers talk about frequencies, compression, warmth, color and all other good mix jargons all day, simply because these are some of the things that makes a song sounds great sonically like we hear on radio stations today.
So, lets jump right in!
Frequency Spectrum and Sound Choice
Frequency is the center of any sound.
As a producer I believe you already know what instruments to fetch for when you need a low frequency sound and when you need a mid or high frequency sound.
Knowing what instrument to grab is awesome, lets say you want a boom sound, you easily know that a kick drum can get you that sound with minimal manipulation.
But there is more room to grow. Being able to know how many instruments in the same register/octave can be played together at the same time without running into what is called frequency masking.
Frequency Masking is simply when a higher-amplitude frequency masks a similar lower-amplitude frequency.
For instance having a bass and kick drum playing at the same time can sometimes cause frequency masking, because these instruments both live in the lower register and share similar frequencies.
Another example is; let's say you are producing a song that has electric guitars, synths, strings, lead guitar, and lead keys. With all these sounds dominating the mid-high frequency range, it is certain that these elements will clash with each other, fighting vigorously for a space to stay in the mix.
So you need to make quick decision as a producer to avoid this type of problem.
How to avoid frequency masking
You can do these following things:
Pan similar instruments to the opposite of each other. Doing this will instantly take care of masking. However, there are times that panning wouldn't work.
For instance, let's say you have two similar sounds both panned hard left, playing at the same time, and you basically have no other option than to leave them both panned hard left.
In this case there is a huge potential that these sounds will clash one another or they won't be differentiable so the best thing to do is to try a different method which I will mention below.
Note that you shouldn't pan your kick and bass left or right as this would disorientate your spatial balance, and this isn't currently accepted in the music world at the moment. Who knows things might change in the future. With that said, I personally believe in breaking some rules for a next level development.
Okay, we are back to the second method on how to avoid frequency masking, which is using an equalizer.
Using an Equalizer: Locate the frequency or frequencies that you would like to manipulate and carve some of it out to create room for the other instruments/sound.
Know that the frequency you cut out doesn't have to be bad frequencies. You are only cutting/reducing it for the purpose of eliminating frequency masking, by giving room for another instrument/sound to be dominant or shine bright like a diamond.
Avoid Using Too Much Sounds
A common mistake that new producers often make is using too much sounds. There is only so much room to fit a fifty track song. Having four acoustic guitar tracks playing the same thing throughout the song is a bit too much.
It is better if you have four of them playing slightly different things or even much better when they all come in at different times.
Sometimes a mix engineer would mute tracks that aren't adding anything significant to the mix. So thinking this way and practicing this technique would help you make good decisions that would be profitable at the end, and would certainly help you become better at managing tracks efficiently.
Use EQ, Compressors, Saturation and more
As a producer you are the original creator, the pioneer and not the mix engineer or the mastering engineer. You set the stage, tone and ambience for which others build upon.
And sometimes your sound or the vibe you are looking for isn't fully there until you begin experimenting with some creative tools.
EQ's, compressors, distortion box, reverb; all these and more are creative tools that can help generate mind blowing ideas that wouldn't have been discovered hadn't not been for them.
Eq your vocals, de-ess your vocals, compress your bass, saturate your snare however you want it, don't be scared to use these tools when you are producing or recording. They are there to help you translate your ideas into the hearts of people.
If you are just starting out and not sure if you are ruining your sound or making it better, just make sure to duplicate the original track so that you can always go back to it if you need it later.
If you don't mess it up, you won't know what messed up sounds like. So mess it up now and learn how to get it right.
Let's quickly take a look on how you can spice up your producing game by using effects.
You can easily use a plate reverb to add space and width to your piano track. Choose the desired setting such as the reverb time, pre- delay and so on based on the track you are working on and the scene you are trying to create.
For example; a long decay would be great when you want to create a huge atmospheric scene or when you are working on a slow pace song with fairly long interval between notes or chords, or when a piano chord lasts for a whole bar.
One of my favorite plate reverb is the Little Plate by Soundtoys. It has just one big knob that controls the decay with other vital knobs that lets you high pass the lows, and slight modulation into your reverb tail and a mix knob to control the wet & dry signal.
This plugin sounds amazing. It sounds great on everything I use it on. So try using reverb to get new creative flows that will your music stand out.
Everyone knows what a delay unit does. It basically echoes a sound at different time intervals.
I remember it was really hard for me to use a delay effectively when I first started. Couldn't get the timing right, wasn't sure how loud it should be in the mix and all sought of other problems that I just couldn't overcome at that time. So if you are struggling, it isn't a bad thing.
It is easy, just decide first in your head, how you want to hear the echo of the audio you are playing. Then sync the delay unit to your song's tempo, and finally find the perfect timing. Maybe you want 1/4th, 1/8th or 1/16th delay, just go with the one that gives you the perfect groove.
Again another delay that I use majority of the time is the faithful Echoboy by Soundtoys. Everybody loves it. It is a unique type of delay with a nice tone and superb sonic character.
Delays On Instruments Other Than Vocals
Don't limit yourself by using a delay on vocals only, because you will miss out on many musical goodies if you do this.
Depending on the genre you are in, play around with a delay on your kick drum (add a HPF to roll off the low frequency), add some delay effect on your snare to create movement and improve the groove. And delays on your synth tracks.
And some VST's already comes with delays pre-loaded just to spark creativity in you.
Making music should be expressive and fun.
The introduction of flangers goes back to the 60's, when a song was recorded on two tape recorders simultaneously and then the speed of one of the tame is altered by delaying it over time. Flangers are dramatic effects but when used subtly can create very unique effects. Play around with it on any instrument. You can use it on a guitar, pad, vocals drum sets and so on.
So, there you have it. We can keep going on and on about how to use creative tools to get unique results.
As a producer, try and explore new ways to create a masterpiece by using all the tips and techniques I have shared with you and go beyond that by creating your own tricks.
Comment and let me know what you think and please feel free to share your techniques with us. We are mastering engineers, but we mix and produce music as well.
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